Why Professionals Should Practice Like Athletes and Actors

In the business world, things move fast. You write a business proposal, seek approval, and move on to your next project. Efficiency is key. Waste little time. Produce as much as possible.

I recently had a wonderful opportunity to share my personal career story at a TEDx event in Worthington, Ohio. Giving a TEDx talk was a huge honor, but also a big responsibility. I wanted to be prepared – and not the kind of prepared that I've been in the past when I've delivered a PowerPoint presentation whipped up for an executive meeting.

But what does being prepared for something like TED mean? Fortunately, I had a great team of folks around me to serve as advisers, including a professional speaking coach, a professional speech writer, and a great TEDx team. I honestly couldn't have felt more proud to have such a great group working with me.

What I quickly found was that preparing for a 15-minute memorized talk was an entirely different animal from preparing for an average business presentation. For the first time, I had a script. I didn't just write that script once – I wrote and revised it 10 times. Each time, the team would have feedback. Perhaps one word didn't sound quite right, or maybe another sentence was needed to bridge two thoughts.

Then came practicing. Memorizing eight pages of text is not easy. That was the first giant hill I had to conquer. Once the memorization was under control, I focused on my delivery. Even tiny details like the regional pronunciation of words were on the table for discussion. I'll be honest: At times, this level of commitment was trying.

Then, one day, I bumped into a professional ballet dancer at the theater where I was practicing. He was there by himself, practicing his dance skills. You might think this was a sign that he had a big production just around the corner, but it wasn't. He was there practicing because he wanted to be his best at all times. He had discipline.

In that moment, it really hit me how hard actors and athletes work when no one is watching. They are dedicated to be the best at one specific thing, for the 15 minutes when people are watching. Hours of tiring practice have gone into that perfect moment – practice that nobody else sees.

My TEDx experience made me wonder how much more effective and efficient we all might be as business leaders if we set aside a little more time to practice. Rather than planning to give a presentation once with no rehearsal, what if we took the time to hone our message? I hope to take my newfound respect for performers and athletes with me as I go back to my projects in the fast-paced business world.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Memphis Daily News.

Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.